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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The last few days in fish:

A few fish from this last week...








Probably the best story from the past few days is actually that of a carp:

So I'm walking up the bike trail, along some of that wooden fence that there must be fifty miles of along the LMR and GMR. I look over the fence at the river. Here it's a head high drop down to the river. Right below me is a big carp in the shallows. On a whim I pitch a grub down and reel it up right in front of the carp and let it sit there.. He tips up and slurps it in. I'm thinking to myself you idiot what have you done? The carp zings around the pool. I'm thinking I'll fight it a bit then break it off I guess. Then it runs under this limb that's lying half in the water half on the bank and fouls itself. Well the limb bends and gives and won't let the carp break the line. Oh crap I can't leave it like this. It's like 60 yards either way before I can get down to the water and for sure can't do even that holding the rod, I loosen the drag as light as it will go in case the carp frees itself. Then I lower the rod as far as I can by the tip and drop it over the fence and haul butt for a spot I can get down. Five minutes later I finally get there, untangle everything and release one very tired carp...

Friday, September 25, 2015

Buddha Channelcat and the circle of life

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to the truth, not going all the way, and not starting...  Buddha
 
When people ask me how to become a better smallmouth fisherman in rivers one of the pieces of advice I always give is to go channel cat fishing in their river at least once a month for the rest of their lives. I'm usually looked at like I've got two heads so let me explain.
Your average smallmouth bass (8 to 12 inches long) is a crayfish eating machine. As the summer progresses he eats more and more crayfish as they hatch and grow till by the end of summer possibly 75 or 80% of his diet in some streams is crayfish. I'm absolutely convinced that the very biggest smallmouth, those 19 and 20 inchers we all dream of, got that way by making the switch to a diet of predominately fish as they get bigger. Studies show big smallmouth are the most picky about the crayfish they eat and prefer small crayfish about an inch and a quarter long. But those same big smallmouth love big minnows up to five or six inches long. So unless your stream is just absolutely crawling with crayfish, which most of the LMR and GMR is not, it's simply a case of more bang for the buck. There are more calories in a given weight of fish than crayfish and the bass prefer bigger minnows and smaller crayfish anyways. Again this only applies to big smallmouth not average ones.
Well channel catfish, like smallmouth, start our eating whatever they can, invertebrates, insects, snails, crawfish, green algae, aquatic plants, seeds and small fish, terrestrial insects. But here's the interesting part, at about 18 inches in length, channel catfish switch to a diet of mostly small fish. Bigger channel catfish have a diet composed of over 75% fish.
 
Lets recap. Average smallmouth bass-75% crayfish diet. Adult channel catfish-75% fish diet.
The average adult channel catfish has much more in common with a trophy smallmouth bass than your average smallmouth bass has.
 
20 inch smallmouth bass in your average stream are extremely rare. So rare that in many studies if one is captured while sampling it's not even used in the study statistics. It's considered an anomaly that would skew the results.. So how do you learn how to fish for a fish so rare that even if you knew how to do it you might only catch one every couple years? Certainly not by fishing for them after all how do you learn by not catching one?
 
Well what your stream has, if it's any kind of smallmouth stream at all, is channel catfish. And it's about a thousand times easier to catch a five to eight pound channel catfish than it is to catch a 20 inch smallmouth bass. And I maintain that you will learn more about catching a trophy smallmouth from your once a month channel cat trip than you will a dozen trips where you caught six or eight 10" smallmouth on roostertails or tubes.
 
There are of course important difference between channel catfish and big smallmouth. For example smallmouth are extremely loyal to their home stretch of river and in summer never leave it. Channel catfish on the other hand, while having a home range, will often leave it for a few days after a big rain and explore wildly up and down the river much like a shovelhead. I find it interesting that in one study channel catfish were labeled a mobile species while bass were labeled a sedentary one. Completely the opposite of how they are often perceived. Channel catfish when inactive and not feeding might bury themselves in a logjam in a bend pool or back up under a rock. But when actively hunting for food a bigger channel cat will seek out the same kind of places a giant smallmouth will after all they are after the same food. Learn to target and catch actively feeding big channel catfish and learn how to catch trophy smallmouth bass.
 
And besides if you want to learn how a river works your going to have to learn how its catfish work. It's my opinion that channel catfish are the most important predator in the river. I've used the analogy of Yellowstone in the past. Flatheads and really big smallmouth are like the grizzlies. Top predators but in limited numbers, not enough to change the whole makeup of the place. Average smallmouth and small catfish are like the coyotes keeping the rodent population in check and eating the occasional rabbit. But adult channel cats are the wolves eating the deer and elk. When wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone everything changed. The elk numbers dropped and numbers of things like beavers and rabbits and trout went up. Wait, what? Beaver and trout? Well less elk meant less overgrazing along stream banks, more riparian cover for trout, more food for beaver. More beaver mean more small streams dammed which mean more overwintering holes for trout, richer deeper water and more food for trout. More rabbits because there are wolves? Wolves eat coyotes, less coyotes mean more rabbits. Everything is connected just like in the river.
 
Did you know that numbers of rough fish like carp are down in the Little Miami compared to 1990?
I think it goes back to our wolf analogy. Cleaner water means more food. More crayfish and darters in the riffles where small channel catfish feed, more insects and tiny invertebrates and plankton for catfish fry. More little catfish mean more big catfish. Which in turn prey on baby rough fish. Channel catfish are the wolves, the fish with the power to change things. Wipe out the big shovelheads and the trophy smallmouth and the river would still be recognizable. It might seem a lot less exciting to our imaginations but for the most part it would look unchanged. But wipe out the channel catfish and the web of life in the river would change drastically and completely.
 
Here are some great studies on channel catfish if you wish to learn more about this awesome fish:
 
 
http://www.jstor.org/stable/3626709?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=14&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CGcQFjANahUKEwj5jNnHu5HIAhWIkw0KHfj8Ap4&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdigitalcommons.unl.edu%2Fcgi%2Fviewcontent.cgi%3Farticle%3D1106%26context%3Dusgsstaffpub&usg=AFQjCNHpKNlnPxuqUhMjdvxMcH0n1KXHuA&sig2=qGIcTlHTCr97tIMmtCo0Hg

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=21&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CBwQFjAAOBRqFQoTCIL0g9q9kcgCFcvUgAodNwIL_Q&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.seafwa.org%2Fresource%2Fdynamic%2Fprivate%2FPDF%2FSKAINS-539-546.pdf&usg=AFQjCNHwoE1xR9AOhApeO4CAH1f1UkRIRQ&sig2=gei16Te7YwNaRkVBLVwR8A




Thursday, September 24, 2015

And the beat rolls on...




 
Love this fall fishing. Biggest was 19.25 but shaped like a football.
On Vic's soft plastics fished in swift water right below a riffle.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fun with Darters...

In the sections of the Little Miami, Whitewater and Great Miami Rivers that I smallmouth fish there are at least a dozen different species of darters. according to EPA shocking surveys they are the most common baitfish in some sections of stream. I've been playing around with some of Vic's new paddletail swimbaits in pearl and some permanent markers. So far I've had great luck on them and find them just plain fun to play around with as well...

The start of the fall bite...

h



Hitting it pretty hard this time of year since from now till say the secomd week of October is the best time to get that big hawg smallie. No monsters but some pretty nice ones so far.
 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

9/17

Hit the river for the first time since before our trip down south for stripers. Since then its cooled off considerably and it showed. Right off the bat I caught a pretty 16 or 17 inch smallie and then a couple small guys. I then walked up to a riffle that's been awfully good to me every fall. In super fast water I caught a crappie. It's very rare to catch a crappie in this river at all much less in super fast water. Then Bam! The rod bent double and the drag screamed. It was a huge smallie. Then it was stuck on something. I could feel the fish throbbing still on the line, then it was gone, broken off. I just stood there sick to my stomach, it was a giant. I had to fight off the urge just to pitch the rod into the river and throw a little hissy fit. I can't remember being more upset over the loss of a fish in a long time. The only thing to do was just fish. Ten minutes later the jig hung on the bottom. Snapping the rod  freed the lure which scooted forward and was just absolutely clobbered by another big smallie. Completely out of the water twice on skyhigh jumps I was sweating bullets after the loss of the giant smallie but I managed to land it. A gorgeous 19.5 incher that was the fattest fish of the year and covered in tiger stripes.



Monday, September 14, 2015

Clinch River

Took a weekend trip down south with the guys. Fishing was actually tough the first couple days. Cold front, clear water. Just little fish, some walleye and drum a few bass. Then we started figuring it out a bit, skipjack fished on the bottom was the ticket...








Sunday, September 6, 2015

Hot weather hybrids

Some pretty hybrids also stirred into action by this weeks rains. As I was walking in a rounded a turn in the trail and there was a small deer. Obviously this years deer though it had lost it's spots. It stood there forty yards away looking like: what it that thing??, as it watched me walk towards it. Going a bit further I could see a much larger deer's hind end sticking out of the pathside weeds. Up came the head. No standing around for mommy. She was gone like shot from a gun. Scared witless that she had let a human walk right up to her...

Even as I tied on a swimbait hybrids were busting bait. I tied on a pearl version of Vic's new paddletail swimbait and never changed. Up until the sun actually hit the water action was steady. I guess I must have caught ten or twelve. Then once the line of sun made it down the hill to the water it was all over. Typical of summertime hybrid fishing.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Hand Lines for catfish...

In that brilliant book on living simply and free, Thoreau states...

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

Sadly in our modern life we are confronted at every turn by complication laid thick upon complication. Not the good kinds of complication like learning a rivers web of life or what paths a buck takes thru the woods or the mysteries of a woman's heart. No, instead we get vile complications of mortgages, too many hours spent at work, the mendacity on man, paying Peter, Paul and the electric company and on and on. Sometimes to keep sane you must yell enough is enough like a madman and just leave it all for a while. Find a quiet tree to nap against, a brook to listen to, a sunrise to watch.

This week I fought back with an empty discarded mountain dew bottle. Around the bottles neck I tied the end of a hundred feet of thirty pound monofilament. I then wound the line around the body of the bottle and slid on a half ounce egg sinker.  I then tied on a swivel and a short leader and hook. Grabbing a zip lock baggie full of frozen cut bait I headed for the river.

Well actually to work then the river. Which was perfect as while I worked it rained the proverbial cats and dogs. And then quit thirty minutes before my shift was over at 1230 am. A half moon slid in and out of the clouds of a clearing sky. Patches of stars began to show. A beaver slapped his tail across the pool in alarm as I reached my chosen spot on the river.

I hooked on a piece of bait and twirled the bait like I'd seen those natives do with their handlines on shows like river monsters and let fly. Okay this was harder than it looked. A few more awkward tries and I managed to sling the thing a couple dozen feet out into the pool.

Which it turned out was all I needed. The rain had breathed new life into a river oppressed by late summer heat. I'd no sooner nestled myself down among the rocks, leaning back against an old log, when I felt a tap tap. Say what you want about the latest high modulus space age rods but nothing will bring you that feeling of direct connection that having the line in your hands will.  The line came taut and began to play out thru my fingers. I let it run a second or two then struck.

Things are different on a hand line. Not really what you would expect. Not the sport of screaming drags or long runs. Instead more the thrashing of a fish getting you wet as it struggles at your feet. But the fish either pulls off or otherwise frees itself or you land it. Actually it seemed a bit less sporty than on a rod and reel! I think I'd rather tackle a really big fish on a heavy hand line than your average fishing rod if I absolutely had to land it. I gained a new respect for those natives in South America or Africa, you absolutely could  fish quite effectively.

Soon after another dandy channel was landed, then another, then a bigger one. This one  measured out somewhere around the 26/27 inch mark. Hard to get an exact measurement as with the hand line you can land even a good sized fish while it still has plenty of life in it to flop and fight when in hand. Getting the hook out can be a challenge of it's own.

And on it went all night. By daylight I'd landed eight or nine fish all on the hand line. Covered in catfish slime, fish guts and soaking wet I headed back towards the rat race of life renewed...



Friday, September 4, 2015

Here's the Vic Coomer Lures I have in my collection and my philosophy on lure selection.





In the rivers I fish the most here in southwestern Ohio there is a mind numbing amount of prey available to a smallmouth bass. For example here's a list of small fishes a bass would eat on the little Miami:
Central stoneroller,  Redside dace, Spotfin shiner,  Steelcolor shiner, Streamline chub, Gravel chub,  Tonguetied minnow,  Mississippi silvery minnow,  Striped shiner, Rosefin shiner, Redfin shiner,  Silver chub, Hornyhead chub,   River chub,  Golden shiner,  Bigeye chub,   Emerald shine,r River shiner,  Bigeye shiner, Silverjaw minnow , Ghost shiner , Blacknose shiner ,   Silver shiner , Rosyface shiner ,Sand shiner , Mimic shiner , Channel shiner , Suckermouth minnow , Southern redbelly dace , Bluntnose minnow, Fathead minnow , Bullhead minnow, Blacknose dace, Creek chub ,Mountain madtom , Stonecat madtom , Tadpole madtom , Brindled madtom , Northern madtom ,   Eastern banded killifish , Blackstripe topminnow , Green sunfish , Pumpkinseed ,Warmouth ,Orangespotted sunfish , Bluegill , Longear sunfish ,Redear sunfish , crappie  Eastern sand darter, Greenside darter , Rainbow darter, Fantail darter, Least darter, Johnny darter , Orangethroat darter , Variegate darter , Banded darter , Logperch, Channel darter ,  Blackside darter, Slenderhead darter. Plus an assortment of fish fry of all other fish species in the river!!

So how do we make sense of all that? Well there are a few loose guidelines that can help. Most little fish that live in the open water of the pools are shiner or chub species. Species that are in general a deeper flatter profile. Sort of like a curly shad. Shiners are usually silvery with light shades of gunmetal blues or pinks. I like to throw the classic curly shad with the silvery sides an the painted backs as well as the new mylar versions. Many of the new mylars are some of the "fishiest" lures I've ever seen in the water.
Many of the riffle/rocky areas of our rivers hold huge amounts of darters. I love the new roundbodied
paddletail swimbaits for imitating these guys as well as a conventional curly tailed grub. Darters come in every shade of the rainbow but the majority are a brown orange gold type color or darker color. The closer I am to the riffle the more I throw slightly darker soft plastics. Smoke metalflake. Smoke with red glitter, brown and orange, clear with gold flake.
Then there is a huge variety of what ill call little minnows scattered seemingly everywhere. The little grey or silvery guys you see rushing out of the shallows when you wade. I like a clear with silver flake grub or the smallest curly shad in the same color anywhere in the river for this reason. That's usually what I start out throwing most of the time then adjust from there. Some of the new clear with mylar curly shads do a good job looking like generic fish food also.
I also think it pays to have some very bright colored baits that imitate nothing in particular. When smallmouth are really on the soft plastics but aggressive a bright colored lure can really expand the distance a bass can spot your lure and thus expand your strike zone and up your catch rate.
If you have a favorite section of river you fish over and over it might pay you to go to the EPA's electroshocking studies. Every river and stream in Ohio has been sampled by the EPA at intervals of just a few miles so it's possible to build a lure selection to match just the sections you fish the most. These studies can be found by googling Water Quality and Biological Studies Index. Here it lists all the EPA studies. The electroshock data is buried in the appendices to each study.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Fallsville Wildlife Area




The 1,382-acre wildlife area is a bit of everything, woods, meadows, streams, ponds, and one of the sweetest waterfalls your going to find in Ohio. Fallsville is named for a town that no longer exists.   . The waterfall is hidden away in a small wooded gorge of clear creek. The trailhead to the falls is located on Careytown Road about 2 miles south of Careytown, which is north of Hillsboro and south east of New Vienna. The trailhead is a gated tractor path, with a graveled space for a couple of cars to park. There is no sign. The trail follows the road for maybe a quarter mile. It then heads into the woods past a scenic abandoned rock quarry to the falls. 

The day the river died...


The National Weather Service report for April 16th, 1998:

"persistent heavy rainfall caused county creeks and streams to flood across roads.  A section of State Route 350 was washed out by the high water.  One hundred fifty people were evacuated from the banks of Turtle Creek while a total of 210 were evacuated across the county.  Seventy homes received minor damage and 5 had major damage.
The Little Miami River rose out of its banks from Kings Mills to Milford.  At Kings Mills, the river crested at 24.0 feet around 3pm EST on the 16th.  Flood stage is 17.0 feet.  Some flooding occurred in South Lebanon and Morrow  in Warren county.  A police car was submerged by the rising flood water.  At Milford, the river crested at 21.3 feet around noon on the 16th.  Flood stage is 17.0 feet."

  If I remember right my dad's rain gauge showed it rained 4.5 inches in a couple hours in South Lebanon, up around Morrow there was even more, I remember people having over 9" in theirs. Between Morrow and South Lebanon is the little natural area of Hall's Creek. Here your right in the heart of the twenty mile long gorge cut by the Little Miami during the melting of the last glaciers. Halls creek falls steeply down the steep hillsides before joining the river. always pretty and full of small cascades, Halls Creek became a different place overnight. small head high waterfalls appeared in the creek and its little tributaries where none were before. And older ones were changed so much as to be unrecognizable.

As you pulled out of the parking area at Halls Creek and drove along river road even more changes were evident. Rocks were blown out of the tiny rivulets that were dry most of time. My father was building a small koi pond beside his house back then. He drove his old van along river road and loaded it full of rocks that has washed down and were scattered all over the roads edge.  A bit further along a tiny stream that was mostly just a muddy spot in the back of someone's yard most of the year had rose up and pushed the house off it's foundation. Now there is just an overgrown flat spot beside the road with a few block hidden in the grass to ever let you know it was ever there. Even right below Caesar Creek Dam was affected. A small dry creek running off the hill built a rock bar almost damming the stream where there was nothing the day before. Thirty plus years later as you walk up the sidewalk towards the dam you can see the tons of rock in that bar that was dumped overnight.

And so it was all along the gorge section of the river. It had been thirty years since the river had gotten that high. But it wasn't the actual level of the flood that had changed things so much. Instead it was that was all concentrated in one spot. All that floodwater poured off the steep hillsides dumping ton after ton of rock into the river.

After things had returned to some semblance on normalcy I made the hike down to my favorite fishing spot, the mouth of what I'll call Stream X. Well Stream X wasn't there anymore! The mouth of the creek had moved forty yards upstream. Its former mouth was a huge rock and gravel bar much of which is still there today. It felt like an old friend had passed away. Year after year, flood after flood, spring after spring, I've watched as the river goes about the work of carrying all the rock away. One year especially high water took the end off the bar depositing a line of rock downstream in the pool below. The water pouring around the bar and over these rocks in a chute of fast water has created just about the best smallmouth spot I know. Some years the bar regains a bit of ground but mostly loses in a slow tug of war with the river.  I now think of that day long ago as a rebirth instead of a death.

Watching how the river changes, both overnight and over decades, has made me realize what a dynamic, living thing a river actually is. I learned and began to appreciate terms like laminar flow and point bar and lateral sort. I found that not only knowing a bit about how a stream works will help your fishing it also will add enjoyment to that fishing.

For you see my experience with my little river is hardly unique. It's an average river in an average part of the country. In fact what makes it so interesting is what it shares with every other river on earth. For you see even though every river, creek, rivulet and dry creek bed is as different from every other as a fingerprint it is also the same. The same laws of physics apply to any flowing water, anywhere. If you know nothing of streams and want to learn the mighty Ohio or Mississippi rivers start with the creek in your back yard.

Every stream left to it's own devices and not encumbered by a hill, a giant rock formation, or for that matter a dam, will naturally form a series of serpentine curves as it flows. Thru these will run the channel of deepest water or thalweg. The thalweg is closest to the bank on the outside of each bend so the channel itself crosses over from one side to another as the stream turns. This is important to realize on a bigger stream as its our natural tendency to assume the middle of the river is the deepest point. Even in large navigable rivers that have been dammed the channel is still down there underneath for you to find. As the thalweg hits the back of each bend it digs out the bottom forming deeper bend pools. On the inside of each bend a rock or gravel bar is formed called a point bar. In between the pools roughly coinciding with where the channel crosses material from the pools is laid down forming a riffle. even in deeper rivers this building up of material goes on even if its not visible as a classic riffle. That in a nutshell is the basic principle. But nothing is ever that simple. The water doesn't flow even around the bend. It hits the back of the bend twisting and rolling over on itself creating a secondary current across the pool towards the point bar as well as flowing around the bend. And as we all know the outside of a wheel turns faster than the inside so the water gets progressively faster the further it is from the point bar. Throw in things like tree roots, substrate makeup, hills and land contours, etc, etc, etc, and you end up with millions of variations on the same theme.

But the key point here is that it is the same theme. If you walk that little creek in the backyard you can easily see all those forces at work. In a few hundred yards you might see three or four bend pools, tiny sand bars, little rock bars and eddies. And they are not there by chance but instead formed according to the laws of nature. That deep pool that's a foot deep on the tiny creek will still be there on the Ohio buried under all that water. If your wading your favorite small stream fishing an outside bend you know the channel will cross over and be on the other side up past that riffle in the next turn.

After a while you get to the point you can amuse yourself almost anywhere. You wander off and stare at the hydrology of a ditch during a soccer game. You picture how each section of the creek must look that you can see out the window during that long business meeting. Even the patterns in the sand of a baseball diamond after a rain were formed by the same forces. You can spend half an hour looking over a ditch line.

You also have to realize that a fishes world is a 3D one. Faster water might be over top slower water. A seam of fast water next to slow water is as obvious as a wall to a fish. An eddy behind a rock is a room where a bass can sit and wait as dinner is brought. When you first wade out into the river it all seems of one piece. But wait give it minute or ten till it starts to slow down in your head. Till you can see a flat piece of foam circling in the chaos below a riffle, till the current separates into individual streams. Till the whole river becomes individual pieces all fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle. That's how fish see their world. And though we can never even come close to their perception of it, the closer we come the better fishermen we become. And even more importantly the more enjoyable and richer our time on the river becomes.

And the list of things we can learn is endless. How different bottom substrates effect water acidity or turbidity. How the glaciers affected our streams. What the presence or lack of groundwater does to our streams. These may seem abstract things but they can have real and practical uses. My home river has abundant groundwater up in it's headwaters. Even to the point of reaching the surface in the form of swampy areas called fens. But many of it's tributaries are not so lucky and they can get low and warm in late summer. Too low and warm for good fishing. A good thing to know before you've driver half an hour to fish one.

When your not out walking the creek in the backyard another good place to start is the EPA's biological and water quality report index. In there you can find a report on any stream in Ohio. Much seems like scientific gobbledygook but if take to time to really look you can vast amounts of information about your stream. Things like watershed maps, vegetation maps of the basin, geological makeup. Also you can find out just how healthy your stream is, what the make up is of the fish community, what the outlook is for the future.

Just be warned, learning a small part of how the river does what it does can be a Pandora's box with far-reaching consequences. Like all thing associated with fishing it can be as simple or as complicated as we wish to make it. And never think that little creek in the back yard is too little to learn from. In many ways the smaller the creek the better it is to see how all the different forces at play work. A hundred yards of a really small creek might be comparable to a hundred miles of the Ohio. Don't take such a gift as having a whole world full of moving water to learn from for granted.